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How to Integrate Jean Watson's Theory of Caring Into Nursing Practice

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Jean Watson’s theory of caring provides nurses with a moral compass from which to work. It helps nurses bring a humanistic and philosophical piece to their patients' care. Jean Watson’s model embraces the mind/body/spirit approach to healing that guides nurses in a holistic approach to their jobs. The caring theories proposed by Watson encourage nurses to integrate their compassion and spirituality in their practices as an adjunct to the science of medicine.

Jean Watson’s Journey to Caring Theory

Jean Watson was born in West Virginia and received her BSN in 1964. In 1966, she earned a master’s degree, and a Ph.D. in 1973, all from the University of Colorado. She first developed her “carative factors” as a guide to direct nurses in their everyday practice. The word “carative” is one she invented to contrast with the medical term “curative.” Watson went on to receive numerous awards and distinguished honors in her career, from six more honorary doctorate degrees to being named a fellow at the American Academy of Nursing. In 1988, her revised carative theories were published in a book titled "Nursing: Human Science and Human Care: a Theory of Nursing." The Watson Caring Science Institute, named for her achievements, continues to espouse her teachings and offers professional development opportunities, grants and studies for nurses internationally.

The Basics of Her Theories

While tomes have been written and studies conducted on Watson’s particular focus in health care, her theories can be broken down into simple basic tenets. She bases her findings on seven assumptions, beginning with the idea that effective caring only can take place on an interpersonal level between patients and nurses. The next six assumptions posit that caring results in patient satisfaction, leads to family and patient growth, requires acceptance, creates an environment in which people make wide decisions, complements curative healing, and is at the very core of nursing. On these seven assumptions about humans and professional nurses, she then created the 10 Carative Factors, a list that incorporates the humanistic practices nurses can employ in their services. They guide nurses to form values, instill hope in patients, become sensitive, develop trust, accept others’ feelings, incorporate science to solve problems, continue to learn, support a positive mental, social, spiritual and physical environment, assist with physical needs and allow for unexplainable outcomes.

The Self-Discovery Process Comes First

The first couple of carative factors require nurses to define their own morals and ethics upon which they operate, encouraging nurses to develop a set of altruistic values they can fall back on. Watson believes nurses should bring their own faith and hope for the future to the table when interacting with patients. To arrive at these hallmarks, nurses must be in tune with their own beliefs and cultivate a sense of their own feelings so they can then be empathetic to their patients’ feelings. This process helps nurses to view their patients as whole human beings, not just sick bodies.

Watson's Carative Factors in Action

The rest of the carative factors drive the practice of nursing, inviting professional nurses to develop trusting relationships with patients, which, in turn, encourages patients to share negative and positive feelings with their nurses. Nurses find this model complements the medical models of health care that reduce patients to atoms and cells. Watson and her followers believe that by incorporating the carative with the curative, society as a whole will be healthier and patients will be able to get well or die with dignity. Acceptance, support, problem-solving, teaching and learning, protection and gratification are not just words incorporated in Watson’s theories of care; they are mandates.


Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."

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